On October 12, Merkin Hall presented one of a series of concerts held under the intriguing banner of Chamber Jazz of which this particular night's program fit rather neatly if not a bit abstractly into, though as far as concepts go, this evening was more chamber and less jazz. It was billed under the confusing title of Cecil Taylor + 2 followed by a triple space, then Mark Feldman violin Sylvie Courvoisier piano. We all of course assumed, and I mean everyone I spoke to, that Cecil was playing with a trio and Mark and Sylvie were doing a duo. As it turned out, the latter was true but the former, completely unexpectedly, was a solo performance (my favorite Taylor setting.)
The evening began with Feldman and Courvoisier playing a magnificent selection of short pieces from John Zorn's Book of Angels. These are some of Zorn's most witty, playful, complex and post-modern compositions. Most of their foundations are built around the melodies of Eastern Europe a la Masada but sprinkled throughout with musical quotes (clearly from Mozart's "Eine Kleine Nachtmusic," with hints of Debussy, Beethoven, Bartok, and many other great composers). This husband and wife team has been playing together for years; both have grown in strength as well as virtuosity. Their set was like hearing two distinct voices becoming one complete entity as they breezed through this set of complicated pieces composed by one of the few American rebel geniuses of our times. Original, ecstatic and roughly hewn as any smooth stone can get.
And speaking of roughly hewn rebels, solid independent thinkers, and geniuses, set two brought us the great Cecil Taylor in one of the best solo performances I have ever seen by him. Sure as script, sure as fire. He began with a short crepuscular poem, then sat at the piano and for the next hour and 15 minutes gave us true chamber music, a piece that could be considered a piano sonata in four distinct movements ranging from the tumultuous to the sublime as only Cecil can do it, with the briefest pauses and rustling of papers between movements.
This was my dream of the ultimate solo concert filled with blocks of singular dark chords, deep breathing AHHHHHHH's, thick tone clusters, and soft - almost romantic - and melodious lines of musical text. I kept thinking Axis. At the Axis imagining then watching his fingers as they danced stomped and swirled all over the keys. Scaly, reptilian ragtime to pure Ellingtonia to beyond the most complex of so-called 20th century Euro-centric classical lingo. His fingers, mind, soul. What they can still capture, project and transcend. Impressionistic and expressionistic all at once, filled with fierce tenderness and calm storms. A language still, only and all his own. This was a night I shall always remember - and as far as chamber music of any kind goes, one of the best. - Steve Dalachinsky
Born in Brooklyn, Mr. Dalachinsky is a writer, poet, and jazz expert. He's released numerous collections of his poetry, the latest being The Final Nite & Other Poems: Complete Notes from a Charles Gayle Notebook 1987-2006 (Ugly Duckling Presse). And he's had three albums released, most recently a collaboration with Matthew Shipp, Phenomena of Interference (Hopscotch).